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It’s time to rethink radiation standards set by DPJ administration after quake

The Yomiuri ShimbunRadioactivity standards that demand there be zero risk of harm to human health need to be revised based on scientific data.

A bill to revise the law concerning technical standards for radiation hazard prevention, thereby strengthening the authority and functions of the Radiation Council, has been submitted to the current Diet session.

The council, which is under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, has eight members who are experts in fields including radiation protection. Previously, the council could not even hold discussions unless it received an inquiry from a government ministry or agency.

If the revision bill to remove this restriction is passed, it will be possible for the council to conduct investigations and hold deliberations based on its own judgment. It also will be able to urge relevant ministries and agencies to take steps including revisions to laws and ordinances that stipulate standard values.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, radiation-related information sorely lacking in scientific evidence spread online and through other channels. This has become a drag on Fukushima’s reconstruction. The bill should be quickly passed to enable the council to function more effectively.

One major issue to be addressed is reviewing the standards for levels of radioactive substances in food products that were adopted in 2012 after the disaster. The Democratic Party of Japan, which was in power at the time, set vastly different standards from international standards in a bid to reassure the public.

For example, the United States allows 1,200 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram of drinking water, while Europe permits 1,000 becquerels. In Japan, the permissible level is 10 becquerels.

Aim for international level

This led to a misunderstanding internationally that Japan introduced strict food standards because it was a contaminated zone. A string of nations placed restrictions on imports of food and other products from Japan. China and South Korea continue to impose tough restrictions on such items.

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the regulation authority, pointed out that distrust of Japanese food products cannot be removed while the current standards remain in place. “It’s important to bring them in line with international levels,” he insisted. The standards should be reviewed swiftly.

Under the DPJ administration, the target for decontaminating affected areas was to reduce the effective annual radiation dose to 1 millisievert or less.

It is scientifically believed exposure to 100 millisieverts or below will not have any impact on human health. The International Commission on Radiological Protection indicates evacuation orders could be lifted when the radiation level is 20 millisieverts or below, and the long-term aim should be to reduce this level to 1 millisievert to be doubly sure of safety.

The government maintains such a position now, but there are no legal provisions for this. Disaster-hit areas remain entrenched by the “1-millisievert curse.” It is one reason some residents hesitate to return to their homes.

The council should again consider the views held by international bodies, and the government should draw up clear standards based on laws and ordinances. It will be essential to carefully explain these steps to victims of the disaster to gain their understanding.

It will soon be six years since the catastrophe. It is time to rethink policies decided at a time when the entire nation was engulfed by apprehension.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 9, 2017)Speech



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